I would like a more concise way of phrasing what is bracketed in the examples below:

Socrates [said something along the lines of] I'm smart because I know that I don't know much.

Tyler [said something like] success breeds a hidden failure.

  • Largely covered at How do you punctuate something you paraphrased?. Jan 10, 2017 at 17:26
  • Just to combine the answer with the examples you've provided... 'Socrates said, and I'm paraphrasing here: I'm smart because I know that I don't know much.' Something like that.
    – pay
    Jan 10, 2017 at 18:27
  • 3
    You can just use "claimed" or "suggested" or similar. Those verbs do not convey "what follows is an exact quotation".
    – user175542
    Jan 10, 2017 at 21:44
  • 2
    I'd probably stick with "said something like", actually. At three words, it's as concise as it needs to be, IMO. Jan 10, 2017 at 22:04
  • 1
    Another option, which might be too sophisticated, could be "Socrates nonverbatim said...". Otherwise, I also think that a mere "along the lines of" might be suitable.
    – T-Saurus
    Jan 11, 2017 at 10:12

12 Answers 12


If you're being informal:

Socrates was like "I'm smart because I know that I don't know much."


Tyler was all "Success breeds a hidden failure."

In at least my idiolect, "was like" as opposed to "said" is precisely to indicate that the source is being paraphrased.

LikeOxford Dictionaries

adverb 2. (informal) Used to convey a person's reported attitude or feelings in the form of direct speech (whether or not representing an actual quotation)

"so she comes into the room and she's like ‘Where is everybody?’"

  • 4
    +1 I've added a dictionary reference to support your answer. :)
    – NVZ
    Jan 10, 2017 at 18:04
  • 18
    This is incrwdibly bad advice. Don't even think of talking like this around educated people, unless you want them to walk away thinking like wow man, guy doesn't even, like, ya know, like, speak english.
    – user175542
    Jan 10, 2017 at 21:34
  • 5
    Qualitative likes are actually considered serious English now, according to like, some report I heard on NPR.
    – thanby
    Jan 10, 2017 at 21:38
  • 14
    +1 This is exactly what I was thinking (and it's why those phrases are not the abomination some folks assert—they serve a conversational purpose that is different from "he said"). It should be noted that it's best to use these fairly sparingly and, as the answer says, in fairly casual contexts, unless you're very young. For example, I have heard them used by highly educated academics in water cooler-type situations, but not in faculty meetings.
    – 1006a
    Jan 10, 2017 at 21:38
  • 6
    @mobileink: I'm a PhD and I talk like this. I think that qualifies me as "educated people". It's very useful to convey someone's beliefs or manner by "putting words in their mouth" without claiming they actually said those words. Perhaps the quality that makes some people object to useful linguistic innovation isn't being educated, but being pretentious? Jan 11, 2017 at 16:13

To quote approximately is to paraphrase:

a restatement of a text or passage giving the meaning in another form


In order to use this word, you'd have to restructure your sentences:

To paraphrase Socrates: I'm smart because I know that I don't know much.

To paraphrase Tyler: success breeds a hidden failure.

  • This will change the meaning of the text, because in OP example subject of the sentence is Socrates and in yours the subject is the author of the text.
    – jcubic
    Jan 11, 2017 at 13:13
  • 6
    @jcubic - It won't change the meaning: "I kicked the ball" has the same meaning as "The ball was kicked by me". It will, however, change the structure. You'll see that I already know this, and admit it: my answer contains the words "In order to use this word, you'd have to restructure your sentences". Often for <single-word-requests> and <phrase-requests> some rewording is needed, as English doesn't have words of every type for every situation; often it's a case of finding the best one and restructuring to use it. [cont...]
    – AndyT
    Jan 11, 2017 at 15:19
  • [...cont] If the structure is all-important to the OP, he is welcome to pick one of the other answers. Kundor's is pretty good, as long as the OP is happy with informality.
    – AndyT
    Jan 11, 2017 at 15:21

Instead of going out of your way to make it look like a quote but then disclaim that it's an exact quote, you can indicate that you are paraphrasing what someone else said by avoiding making it look like a quotation in the first place.

For example, if you are talking about something another person said, use the third person to indicate that you are restating what they said, and not directly quoting them. Instead of:

Bob said "I am going to the store."

you can say:

Bob said he was going to the store.

Both convey the same meaning, that Bob intended to go to the store, but the first implies a specific wording was used by Bob, and the second does not.

For your examples, you could write something like:

Socrates said that he was smart because he knew that he didn't know much.

Tyler said that success breeds a hidden failure.

  • This works fine as a rewrite of the OP's sentence, but it doesn't provide the succinctness he asked for.
    – AndyT
    Jan 11, 2017 at 9:17
  • @AndyT How about: Socrates said he was smart because he knew that he didn't know much. The second example is even more straightforward to adjust (as you don't have to remove any first person): Tyler said that success breeds a hidden failure.
    – R.M.
    Jan 11, 2017 at 17:21
  • @R.M. - Well, that removes the whole "something along the lines of" part that the OP is looking for.
    – AndyT
    Jan 11, 2017 at 17:39
  • @AndyT - Not really, as the convention is that if you don't have quotation marks it's a paraphrase/rewording - you're capturing the meaning but not the exact words. The "something along the lines of" is implicit. As long as you're "quoting approximately" and not doing something like introducing a new analogy ("Tyler said winning the Superbowl puts you last for the draft.") you shouldn't need to explicitly signpost it. -- But you're right that it doesn't emphasize that it's a paraphrase; though I'm unclear if the OP needs that, or simply needs to mark that it's not a direct quote.
    – R.M.
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:20
  • @R.M. - You are right, I think I was being a bit slow yesterday. barcebue - I've edited your post to try and make it a bit clearer (it makes it clearer to me anyway). Feel free to revert if you don't like it.
    – AndyT
    Jan 12, 2017 at 9:22

More colloquially, I've heard more or less.

Socrates more or less said I'm smart because I don't know that much.

More or less, Socrates said that I'm smart because I don't know that much.

He said I'm smart because I don't know that much, more or less.

This phrase indicates that you're paraphrasing, or that you're 'reading between the lines', e.g.:

He said "That dress looks fine on you".

More or less, he said I look fat in this dress!

  • 1
    I like the use of the term, but disagree with where you put it in the sentence in your first two examples. We don't want to modify said, that would imply that Socrates didn't actually say it (maybe he mumbled it, or wrote it, or conveyed it through smoke signals). Instead, make sure you're modifying what he said: "Socrates said, more or less, I'm smart because I don't know what much". Your third example works.
    – BradC
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:31

If you're going for down-to-the-syllable succinctness, try out roughly.

Socrates roughly said: I'm smart because I know that I don't know much.

Tyler roughly said: success breeds a hidden failure.

  • 4
    You could use "basically" or "essentially" along the same lines.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jan 11, 2017 at 14:20
  • 1
    @AndyT Ok, done.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:31
  • 2
    Roughly, where you put it in the sentence, could be seen as describing a gravely voice. Try putting it after the word said: "Socrates said, roughly, I'm smart because I don't know that much.". I like "essentially" very much, it seems slightly more formal and more likely to be used in writing.
    – BradC
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:35

While I agree with some of the answers, an alternative approach is to use words that show your understanding on their stance of role in the idea:

Socrates acknowledged that [he was] smart because [he knew] that [he] don't know much.

Tyler was critical of success [because it] breeds a hidden failure.

Note here that this is fairly formal (third-person past tense) and would come across as more impartial, objective, or academic in a report or article. You might come across as too educated, condescending or patronising if you were to use this in everyday speech or social media.

  • 1
    This appeared in the comments, too: please notice that the heavy lifting in the first example is not the word "acknowledged" (which could just as easily be rewritten "said") but rather the rewrite into 3rd person singular, which signals "hey, Socrates wouldn't have said this directly because he'd have been speaking in the 1st person; maybe there are other variances as well."
    – CR Drost
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:26
  • I think both are important to consider, word choice is an important part of your repertoire: it is a great way your or their stance on the phrase. Particularly, as "concise" was requested by the OP. Similarly, claimed, postulated or hypothesised can show that the idea is uncertain or remains controversial.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jan 11, 2017 at 22:36

Here's a phrase you could try:

You could say your paraphrased sentence and add, 'or words to that effect.'

E.g., Socrates said he wasn't smart because he knew he didn't know much, or something to that effect.


Similar to "roughly", you can use "basically" or "essentially"

Socrates basically said I'm smart because I know that I don't know much.

Tyler essentially said that success breeds a hidden failure.

These are both fairly concise and appropriate in a range of situations: they're a little bit informal (particularly "basically") but I have seen these used in academic debates and conferences.


Since we only know the quote approximately, we know the meaning of the quote, and so meant should work.

Socrates meant, "I'm smart because I know that I don't know much."

Tyler meant success breeds a hidden failure.


mean VERB

[WITH OBJECT] 1 Intend to convey or refer to (a particular thing); signify:
‘he was asked to clarify what his remarks meant

‘Ziana began to understand what her grandfather had meant by those words.’


There are already excellent answers here, but to convey the meaning of the OP, may I suggest


Socrates taught, "I'm smart because I know that I don't know much."

Tyler taught, "Success breeds a hidden failure."

This implies that the words chosen might not be exact, but the meaning is the same. In essence you are quoting his idea, not his words. Ideas, by design, are framed in the language and perspective of the person speaking and not that of the original creator.

  • do you mean thought ? Jan 12, 2017 at 18:06
  • The use of this is fairly restricted to teachers and I'm not sure I agree with it. Teachers tend to use the 2nd/3rd person for this so: Socrates taught that "to be smart is to know that you don't know very much". Using first person wouldn't be very appropriate to a student audience where you're clearly "smarter". Similarly, proposed that or suggested that would be serve a similarly purpose to refer to their claims in writing or research rather than teachings.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jan 13, 2017 at 2:19
  • I think you are correct. I will leave this answer for knowledge sake.
    – Jammin4CO
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:10

Consider "indicated", this sense of which is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

to state or express briefly

As in:

Tyler indicated that success breeds a hidden failure.


The simplest solution is not to use quotes. You could use 'that" if you want to emphasize that it's not a direct quote, but it's not necessary.

Tyler said [that] success breeds a hidden failure. Socrates said [that] he was smart because he knew he didn't know much.

If you know what your speaker meant, but don't know the exact words, this should do. If you're not sure of the exact meaning, then you'll have admit that by using some more cumbersome wording. Something along the lines of "something along the lines of."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.